Commentary

Granderson better than advertised?

The Yankees' new center fielder has wasted little time becoming a hero

Updated: April 8, 2010, 8:20 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BOSTON -- When the Yankees acquired Curtis Granderson in a three-way trade involving the Tigers and Diamondbacks in December, the scouting report was as follows: a lion versus right-handed pitching; a lamb versus lefties; a gazelle in the outfield; a mensch in the clubhouse.

Three games into his Yankees career, Granderson has come precisely as advertised. So far he has crushed righties, belting a long home run against Josh Beckett in Sunday's Opening Night 9-7 loss to the Red Sox, and a game-winner in Wednesday's 3-1 win.

[+] EnlargeCurtis Granderson & Mariano Rivera
AP Photo/Charles KrupaCurtis Granderson has quickly endeared himself to Mariano Rivera and the rest of his new teammates.

Granderson showed grace and athleticism climbing the center-field fence to rob Adrian Beltre on Sunday, and since his first day in spring training camp he has been personable and accommodating standing before his locker.

And, of course, he has struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers.

But there was one quality that was less-publicized, although for the Yankees' purposes it may turn out to be the most important one of all.

Curtis Granderson loves to hit against Jonathan Papelbon.

Granderson is not the type of guy who would ever admit it. In fact, he downplayed his success against Boston's formidable closer -- but his numbers do his bragging for him.

In spite of his attempt to point out that he had, in fact, failed in seven of his 10 at-bats against Papelbon, what was left unsaid was that this still made him a .300 hitter against a pitcher the rest of baseball hits a measly .198 against.

And Granderson practically blushed when someone mentioned that of the 21 home runs Papelbon has allowed in his five-plus major league seasons, only one player has hit as many as two of them.

Curtis Granderson.

"I really can't explain it," Granderson said. "He's a great closer, he's got great stuff, and anybody would want him on their team. That's the reason why they kept him out in the ballgame, to go ahead and try to extend the inning for them. I was just trying to get on base, but I was able to put a good swing on the ball and drive it out of the ballpark."

Many players have passed through the Yankees clubhouse over the past 15 years or so, for many different reasons. But during the past 15 years or so, as the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox has intensified, very often the most important reason of all for the Yankees to covet a player is simply how well he performs against Boston.

That may not have been the main motivation in Granderson's case -- but it is certainly a welcome bonus.

The Yankees have specifically told Granderson not to try to be Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui. They didn't bother advising him not to try to replace Bernie Williams, Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio, either.

"'Just be yourself' is what I've been telling him since the beginning of spring training," manager Joe Girardi said.

In other words, just be that one guy who might actually strike fear into the heart of Papelbon. And with it, the Red Sox and their vociferous Nation.

The Yankees can live with Granderson's .210 career batting average against lefties -- a pace he is living up to so far this season, with one hit in five at-bats against southpaws, including three strikeouts. But they love the way he glides around center field enough to move the speedy Brett Gardner, who won the job in the spring of 2009 only to quickly give it back, to left.

And they welcome a left-handed bat that hit 30 home runs last year in Detroit and should have no problem matching that total in homer-friendly Yankee Stadium.

But to have a player who gives them a legitimate home run threat against arguably the second-best closer in the American League? Priceless -- and for the $30.25 million they're paying him over the next five years, a virtual steal.

Granderson's home run -- deep into the right-field seats on a 94 mph, 0-1 fastball -- broke a 1-1 deadlock in the 10th inning during Papelbon's second inning of work. The Yankees had gotten excellent starting pitching out of Andy Pettitte (six innings, one run on six hits) and three much-needed scoreless innings out of Chan Ho Park, who had gotten shelled in Sunday's opener.

Now, thanks to Granderson, they leave Boston having done something in the first week that they were unable to do over the first 105 games of 2009 -- win two games against the Red Sox.

Now, perhaps, Granderson can make his home debut next Tuesday without having to suffer that uniquely Bronxian rite of passage -- the Bronx cheer for the home player who tries to replace a fan favorite, or in Granderson's case, two or three, as well as decades of Yankees history.

Tino Martinez went through it, Jason Giambi went through it, Mark Teixeira went through it. With one mighty swing of his bat, Curtis Granderson might well escape it.

And why not? The bat that can bring down Papelbon can go a long way to raising another banner in the Bronx.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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